LUKE’S GRADE: D+

Throughout “Last Night in Soho,” the dying flower Edgar Wright hands to the swinging ‘60s and, really, the ever-blinding bubble of nostalgia, it’s really easy to share in the gaped admiration of its idealistic hero, Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie). Putting pomp in the pop and doused in the most beautiful temptations, visually, the film contrasts the highs of history with many of the wretched and persistent fears that snuck through them. Unfortunately, while it’s a technical triumph, a mad, luring flurry of sensory chaos, “Last Night in Soho” is far from a narrative one.

Cast from the quiet hillsides of England into a trendy fashion school in London, Ellie starts the film by bursting into the town of her dreams. Having lived with her grandma (a touching Rita Tushingham) ever since her mom’s death, Ellie’s aspirations and admirations have always pointed to the past. Her music, her room – which she hypnotically enters in a dazzling, confident opening sequence – and her talents all act as tributes to the mod fashionistas and icons of what many have called the quintessential time and place to be.

Unfortunately, landing in a very modern London, with nasty roommates, nosy men, and ruckus galore, her introduction to the holy land is hardly the fit she thought it was going to be, something grandma was worried about. Ellie’s mom had a go at London many years ago but, for reasons unexplained, the life didn’t pan out; that failure, it seems, led to her committing suicide. Now, for more reasons unexplained, Ellie sees her mom in her reflections, acting, thankfully, as a welcomed presence as opposed to a haunting one.

If we’re to speculate on what Wright and Krysty Wilson Cairns’ (“1917”) screenplay leaves unsung, the dead mother appears to her daughter when good things happen, almost like a charm. The young woman has some kind of capability to latch onto and exhibit not only the emotions feeding her, but those lurking around her as well. So, when Ellie makes her unromantic start in London, abandoning the dormitory life for an attic apartment from the stern but approachable Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg, in her final performance), she’s actually transported to the booming beginnings of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a demanding, up-and-coming talent in the ‘60s who commands every room she enters.

Witnessing Sandie’s confidence in the era she felt she belonged to, Ellie latches onto her metamorphosed alter ego, a practice that eventually cracks the space-time continuum as these romantic dreams turn into full-blown nightmares.

There’s plenty of promise in this premise, and unfortunately, most of the film’s biggest issues seem to stem from its recognition of that fact. Beats, images, and tactics are stubbornly meshed and rehashed across a two-hour runtime that appears to show its hand too early, though in reality, what grounded viewers will realize is that the hand, a glossy spectacle, is mostly a bluff.

Hints that the screenplay would become a recurring issue appear almost immediately. The first 25 minutes of the film play out like a familiar, over-the-counter “country girl hits the big city” story. Complete with comically wicked characters (Synnove Karlsen’s Jocasta character is a reprehensible product of both personality and writing), this opening section served little substantial purpose beyond wishing Ellie to leave it as soon as possible.

Fortunately, when she does, the wait is well worth it. Our first trail into the ‘60s, taken down elegant stairs and into the heart of well-furnished theaters and venues, is an immaculate smashing of production and cinematography – kudos to cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (“Oldboy”), production designer Marcus Rowland (“Rocketman”), and costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux (“Chernobyl”). Ellie, often confined to the mirrors on the wall, playing spectator in this time capsule doll house, gazes upon Sandie not with envy, but with sheer, immediate respect.

Coincidently, the audience experiences the same rapid feeling for the two leads. McKenzie, always charming, portrays Ellie with the perfect mix of naïveté, wonder, and drive, and eventually, gives the film its most pulsating sense of horror. And Taylor-Joy, as a crumpled star in an unforgiving and predatory industry, brings a ferocity to Sandie that catches Ellie’s eye.

Eventually, it captures her heart as well, as Ellie’s affection blossoms first into an addiction, before eventually settling into a protective role. However, their decades-crossed connection is one of the many elements of the story left foolishly underdeveloped, as Taylor-Joy is left with little to do after Ellie’s nostalgia high runs its course and the bulk of McKenzie’s journey involves evading messy, “blocked out” creatures from the past and solving a confounding mystery.

Solid supporting performances are also snagged and snubbed by an unsupportive script. Matt Smith, who plays Sandie’s in-the-past manager Jack, engulfs the necessary sly and sinister role, though gets stuck on repeat in the film’s middle section. And icon of the silver screen Terrance Stamp, a happily meta addition to a movie encapsulated in the ‘60s, is wasted, given a ridiculously deceptive role.

Similarly, with this thematically inept screenplay, the feminist undertones that guide the film never grow beyond a regular ripple, almost like a scheduled, perfectly predictable tide. And what’s worse is that the film’s fractured finale – beyond being less than scary, it is almost foolish – misdirects our sympathies and our frustrations, proving the nonexistence of any thoughtful foundation.

That being said, the performances and visual gems throughout “Last Night in Soho” make the film impossible to dismiss – or at least, to dismiss entirely. However, given Wright’s history in blending genres together (“Shaun of the Dead,” for instance, proved his ability to adapt horror...so what happened here is beyond me), the end product here is disappointing. Stylish, sure. But really, quite empty.

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